Artist of the Month: December 2014, Julie Umerle

Julie in her studio at The Fire Station, Acme Studios, London. Photo by Peter Abrahams

The Artist of the Month for December is the abstract painter Julie Umerle. She talks to us about the ideas and processes behind her work

Lesley Guy: Describe your work. Is there a particular piece that represents a turning point in your practice?

Julie Umerle: I'm an abstract painter; my paintings are a combination of precision and chance. I love working with paint, making it do different things and changing my goals and ambitions for the paintings from time to time just to keep it interesting.

One of my pieces, Eclipse, has recently been acquired for the Priseman-Seabrook Collection. That painting encapsulates a particular moment in time. When I have an idea for a series of work, I push that idea as far as I can. Then there comes a time to move on and, yes, you could see that piece as a turning point. Moving on to add a little more control to the process and towards the 'drip' paintings that followed.

LG: How much time do you spend in the studio? Are you disciplined?

JU: I spend as much time as I can in the studio on a regular basis. It can vary from week to week, but I'm usually in the studio at least four days a week plus one day a week spent at home doing admin. It really depends on what projects I am working on. But I do try to be structured, to keep in touch with what I'm doing there. I think it's important to have a framework. I've always been a studio-based artist, so it's a special place for me and my work and it's where I really feel at home.

Eclipse, 2000. 20 x 18in. Oil/acrylic on canvas. Photographer Peter Abrahams

LG: How has your practice changed over the years?

JU: I've been practising as an artist for over thirty years, working on paper as well as on canvas, in series that are often open-ended. I've been through many phases with my work in that time, always abstract. When I first started painting I was exploring colour, gesture and composition; then geometry; then it was all about process. Right now I'm interested in mark-making and scale.

LG: What do you think of the contemporary painting you see around at the moment?

JU: There are a number of interesting painters working at the moment. Painting has had a real renaissance in recent years, particularly abstract painting, and is once again very current. It's always exciting when this happens and painting becomes part of the discourse about contemporary art rather than being relegated to the margins.

LG: Which painters working at the moment do you admire?

JU: One of my all time favourite artists is Gerhard Richter whose paintings I first saw in Berlin in 1991 and have seen many times since. He is always inspiring. Lots of contemporary painters interest me and I watch to see what they're doing and how they develop. Carla Busuttil, for example, whom I met in 2008 at her degree show at the Royal Academy Schools, is an interesting painter. Also, Jacqueline Humphries, whose work has changed a lot since I first saw it in New York when her paintings were all red drips.

LG: What brought you to the UK? Is it different showing work here than in the US?

JU: I came to the UK as a child when my family moved here from Connecticut. Then I returned to the US to pursue my MFA studies in New York in 1996 and spent a long period of time there after I graduated. There are far more galleries in the US than in the UK, but then again there are many more artists there too. Finding a gallery to suit your work is just as difficult, wherever you're based.

LG: What have you got coming up?

JU: Over the next few months my paintings can be seen in group shows at Huddersfield Art Gallery, Ipswich Art Gallery, St Marylebone Crypt in London and Swindon Art Gallery.

Interview by Lesley Guy
Published December 2014

View Julie Umerle's profile >  

Upcoming shows:

Contemporary British Painting, St Marylebone Crypt. 8 Dec 2014 - 2 Jan 2015

Contemporary British Painting, Huddersfield Art Gallery. 1 Nov 2014 - 14 March 2015

Paint Britain, Ipswich Art School Gallery. 15 Nov 2014 - 8 March 2015

Present Tense, Swindon Art Gallery. January 2015 - April 2015

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